Inclusive advertising photos featuring three women, one with arm crutches, one in a wheelchair, and another with vitiligo

In a step forward for inclusive advertising, the lingerie and swimwear brand Aerie featured a wheelchair user as an underwear model for a recent ad campaign. Abby Sams, a 20-year-old from Athens, Georgia, was included as part of Aerie’s latest addition to its campaign #AerieReal.

Woman sitting sideways in wheelchair wearing pink bra and underwear as part of inclusive advertising campaign

Aerie’s recent shoot, of which Sams was a part, featured a model with an ostomy, one who uses arm crutches, one with type 1 diabetes and an insulin pump, and another with vitiligo, a skin condition that causes patchy discoloration. In a post after the campaign went live, Sams described her participation as part of a broader mission, “To remind young disabled women that they’re beautiful no matter what. Beautiful with mobility aids. Beautiful in a wheelchair. Beautiful with an invisible illness. Beautiful, not despite of those things, but because of them.”

Aerie has gained a name for itself by promoting body positivity, cutting clothes for and featuring models of a variety of shapes and body types. When its body positivity campaign, #AerieReal, was launched in 2014, the company chose to use untouched photos – ones where the model’s skin blemishes, stretch marks or other quirks hadn’t been photoshopped out. “They are still models, they’re still gorgeous, they just look a little more like the rest of us,” said brand manager Jenny Altman at the time. “We’re hoping to break the mold … we hope by embracing this that real girls everywhere will start to embrace their own beauty.”

Woman in glasses with brown hair, smiling, sitting in a wheelchair wearing a pink underwear set for inclusive advertising campaign.

The strategy has paid dividends, as the company has been growing rapidly and even taking market share from industry behemoth, Victoria’s Secret. Aerie’s value rose from $200 million to $500 million between 2017 and 2018.

There’s been a large and overwhelmingly positive response to the inclusive ad campaign, with Twitter users breaking out the caps locks and exclamation points. User EV Mac responded to Sam’s tweet announcing the photos, “OH MY GOD!!! THIS IS THE FIRST TIME I’VE EVER SEEN MYSELF REPRESENTED IN A MODEL!!!!”

Of the response, Sams told that, “So many people are so excited that a major company is really going deep into representing diversity in all communities. [People were] so happy to finally see someone like them in the media, totally unretouched and happy.”